The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal’s picture-perfect Hindutva

New Delhi, Dec. 31: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reiterated his government’s commitment to the principle of secularism and clarified that Hindutva, as he understood it, was an inclusivist concept which affirmed that “India belongs to all, and all belong to India. It means that all Indians have equal rights and equal responsibilities”.

In a rebuff to the likes of K.S. Sudarshan, Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia and the BJP hardliners, Vajpayee’s New Year message from Goa, released today, celebrated India’s unity-in-diversity spirit and reinterpreted Hindutva as a broadbased and progressive concept “which is forward-looking, not one that seeks to take us back”.

The Prime Minister’s musings, titled “Let us celebrate — and strengthen — our Indianness”, were placed in the context of Gujarat, especially his reflections on Hindutva and Bharateeyata which formed the bulk of the text. Commenting on the “two distinct voices, which have become louder after the Gujarat elections”, Vajpayee wrote: “On the one hand, secularism is being pitted against Hindutva under the belief that the two are antithetical to one another. This is incorrect and untenable. Secularism is a concept of the State, enjoining upon it the duty to show respect for all faiths and to practise no discrimination among citizens on the basis of their beliefs. In this sense, India has been secular since the beginning of her known history. We chose to remain wedded to secularism even when Pakistan was carved out on the basis of the spurious and communal Two-Nation Theory. This could not have been possible if the majority of Indians were not secular.”

Vajpayee’s part political and part philosophical musings were buttressed with quotations from Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Aurobindo. He maintained that Hindutva presented a “viraat darshan” or an all-encompassing view of human life and regretted that it was projected by some in a “narrow, rigid, and extremist manner”.

“Hindutva is an integral understanding of the entire Creation, showing the way both to the Here and the Hereafter. It emphasises the inseparable relationship between the individual and society, as well as between man’s material and spiritual needs. Hindutva is liberal, liberating and brooks no ill-will, hatred or violence among different communities on any ground,” the Prime Minister wrote.

Vajpayee’s version of Hindutva was as much a put-down of RSS sarsanghchalak Sudarshan, who protested against President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s proposal to inaugurate a Jesuits’ conference in Calcutta, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — whose senior leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore declared that cows’ lives were more precious than Dalits’ after the Jhajhar massacre in Haryana — as his own minister M.M. Joshi for whom Vedic maths was the touchstone of knowledge.

He said Hindutva was “that which makes us capable of meeting the challenges of the modern world, not one that is stuck in the grooves of the past; that which is reform-minded, and not one that protects obscurantism and injustice, against which all the reformers of the past have fought. If understood and practised in this enlightened sense, which is how Swami Vivekananda and other great patriots propounded it, the current controversy over Hindutva will be seen as wholly unnecessary”.

This is the second time Vajpayee has chosen to go against his ideological fraternity’s beliefs and expatiate on the theme of secularism in his prime ministerial tenure. But the timing of the message falls into a pattern: the first time he waxed eloquent on secularism was in the Kumarakom musings penned in December 2000 when he was holidaying in Kerala’s backwaters.

Days before, he played to the saffron gallery by declaring that the Ram temple was a “manifestation of nationalist sentiment” — a statement which upset the NDA allies.

n Excerpts from PM’s musings, Page 6

The Goa musings were preceded by Vajpayee’s criticism of Muslims for not atoning sufficiently for the Godhra carnage on the day the BJP won the Gujarat election. His response was not to the NDA’s liking even if the representatives did not openly protest. In a sense, the Goa musings are the Prime Minister’s way of atoning for his December 15 remark, if only to humour his “secular” allies.

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